Five early thoughts on Wildcats basketball

EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern Wildcats made the most of their exhibition opener, a 99-48 win over Robert Morris on Monday.

The Wildcats freshmen all got to play in their first game. Northwestern was gave major minutes to their role players. And coach Bill Carmody was able to use real-game situations as teaching tools and to experiment with rotations.

Here are five thoughts I walked away with afterwards:

1. Shurna impressive: Keeping in mind it was just an exhibition against an NAIA opponent, John Shurna still looked extremely sharp inside and out offensively. Shurna has diversified his game each season, and he has become less of a shooter and more of an overall scorer. While he knocked down mid- and long-range jumpers Monday, he also got to the rim off the drive and by freeing himself off cuts and screens for layups. If Shurna can stay healthy, which has to be a concern after last season, he’s going to a beast this season. With Carmody also encouraging him to be more selfish, I don’t think 25 points a game is unrealistic. He may not be a lottery pick and his shooting form isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but when it comes down to it, Shurna has the potential be one of the premier college basketball players this season.

2. The kids are all right: Freshmen guards Tre Demps and David Sobolewski made their collegiate debuts. Both started, and both saw plenty of minutes. Sobolewski handled the point guard duties when both were on the floor, but Demps played the position when Sobolewski was on the bench. Robert Morris didn’t put much pressure on Northwestern while the Wildcats were bringing up the ball, so neither had any troubles getting Northwestern into its offense. Both looked confident handling the ball and were also aggressive in their own ways. Sobolewski hit two 3-pointers, but he often looked to get to the rim. Demps appears to possess more of a scorer’s mentality and was willing to put up shots from wherever. He took a team-high 11 shots and scored 13 points. There will be a learning curve with both players. Carmody called the two over to him on a few occasions Monday to explain situations. It’s still hard to project whether either can be the starting point guard this season, but both had strong debuts.

3. Utilize Shurna: Northwestern needs to make sure Shurna gets enough looks. He’s the Wildcats’ best scoring option and has to be utilized as much as possible. Just because Demps, JerShon Cobb, Drew Crawford, Alex Marcotullio and Luka Mirkovic have scoring abilities and have confidence in those abilities, it doesn’t mean they always should take the shots. Shurna averaged 11.4 shots a game last year. Michael Thompson led the team at 12.3. Shurna doesn’t need to be in the 20-shot category like Jimmer Fredette was at BYU last year, but around 15 shots a game would make sense. Penn State’s Talor Battle, Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore and Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer were all near 15 shots a game last season.

4. Finding their place: Reggie Hearn and Nick Fruendt looked like fluid and reliable basketball players on Monday. If they can stay that way, they can play significant roles in helping the team’s depth this season. In the past, Fruendt and Hearn have normally only had their names called when the game has either been in hand or out of reach. Hearn averaged 2.5 minutes last season, and Fruendt averaged 4.6. Because of them being on the bench so much, both have often looked tight and out of place when they’ve been on the floor. On Monday, both played with confidence. Hearn was 6-of-9 shooting and had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Fruendt was 4-of-4 from the field, 2-of-2 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the foul line. He had team highs of 17 points and seven rebounds.

5. Rebounding needs work: Northwestern wasn’t playing with everyone (Cobb, Crawford and Marcotullio sat out with injuries), but its defensive rebounding still wasn’t excusable against Robert Morris. The Eagles grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. The whole team needs to do a better job at boxing out, but a lot of that responsibility still falls on big men Mirkovic and Davide Curletti to be tougher in the paint.